How did you get into techno?
When I started listening to music, I always liked anything that had electronic sounds to it. When I was growing up, it was kind of the end of that Switched-On Bach era, when you could do funky versions of things like James Brown with all synthesizers and a drummer. I think I grew up at a time when it was the end of really looking at the future—synth music was the future. I was always attracted to those sounds. I was in tune with the sound of synthesizers, and by the time I heard the stuff Juan Atkins was doing as Cybotron, those records were huge here in Detroit.
When I first heard X-Ray's [a project of techno originators Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson] "Let's Go," it completely blew my mind. Then it was "Nude Photo" [by May], which was pretty much mainstream here in Detroit, at least after six o'clock on the radio. I had to get "Nude Photo," and I ran to the record store to get a copy. I saw that it was from Detroit, and I was like, "I've gotta meet this Mayday guy." So I took an electronic-music course. I didn't pay any attention to anything else but making demos, learning how to use synthesizers and record and stuff. My objective was always to meet Derrick May, and I had the opportunity through a friend at school who had a radio show. Right around the time I met Derrick, it was the release of the Future Sound of Detroit techno compilation. That was the first time that "techno" was really used as a name for the genre. So I was in there from the ground floor.
How much does jazz play a role in your music, considering you're now working with people like Wendell Harrison, whom you performed with at this year's Detroit Electronic Music Festival?
Jazz radio was big when I was growing up. When Deodato's 2001 album came out [in 1977], for some reason I thought that was Herbie Hancock, but at that age I don't even know how I knew who the hell Herbie Hancock was—I didn't really pay that much attention to him until he did "Rockit." I remember hearing these things growing up, sitting in the back of my parents' car. Neighbors listened to modern jazz, which also included things like Steely Dan and went to that lite-rock aspect of it as well as the jazz-funk things that were happening. I heard it so much as I grew up, but it didn't interest me directly—it was my parents' music. My brother listened to Parliament, and my sister listened to Gil Scott-Heron, or we listened to some corny-ass crap on the radio, but it was always there.
In Detroit, I think that it's just in our souls. You can't get away from jazz. No matter how much you want to prove that you make your music, and jazz has zero to do with it, at some point you do kind of segue into jazz because it's a part of us here. So for me to work with Wendell or Phil [Ranelin, trombonist] or Marcus [Belgrave, trumpeter; all members of the Tribe collective, which Craig reunited in 2007], I know their music and became very familiar with it as an adult, but I wouldn't doubt that I heard their music when I was a kid.
How do you keep up with new music?
It's a tough situation right now, because my taste has always been unique; but, being a DJ, there are certain records that work. You don't always get those gigs where you can play whatever the hell you want. In some cases you can break it down, but in general you're playing things that are rhythm based, trying to play modern music as well as music that touches your soul. So I pay attention to what other DJs are playing and to music that's sent to me. I'm looking for futuristic shit, stuff that's next level.
One guy I listen to quite a lot recently is Lil Wayne. I think that he's got that spirit that's a mix of Ol' Dirty Bastard and Ghostface Killah, two of my favorites, and the beats are very simplistic, but the sound is inescapable. Of course with "Lollipop" it's like, "Get that shit out of here," but something like "A Milli" is so simple it goes back to the days of Run-D.M.C.'s "Peter Piper." It's like that kind of shit to me, which was another influence on how I listen to music. I really relate to that kind of minimalism in a very black-American way, in comparison to German music or minimalism that's trying to be artistic.
How do you decide what remixes to do?
It's usually if it interests me, if there are some elements I think I can use, I'll get involved. With doing Can, they were a major influence on me in my early recording days. I did this remix for a Japanese artist, and I didn't have any clue how big she was outside of what the record label said. Then we got this package of the remixes, and there's like a 10-piece vinyl remix set, a two CD set, they went all-out. She's this huge J-pop artist, and I had no idea.
How did you feel about the Grammy nomination?
Getting nominated for a Grammy is a big headfuck. If I'd have won, it'd have been a bigger headfuck. I've done a lot of work, and I've worked hard over the years, and it was really an amazing honor. Of course I'd like to be the equivalent of Quincy Jones when I'm 70 years old, to have that amount of work that I've done over the years, that standard of quality. Who knows, maybe by the time I'm his age, I'll have that same type of recognition and the nominations and maybe some wins to go with it.
Carl Craig headlines the Decibel Festival on Sat Sept 27, Neumos, 8 pm, $20 adv/$25 DOS, 21+.